The title character of Pépé le Moko, played by Jean Gabin, is a gangster from Paris who manages to elude the French authorities by hiding out in the Casbah, a tortuous citadel in Algiers. His nemesis is Inspector Slimane (Lucas Gridoux), who bides his time waiting for Pépé to leave the Casbah so that he can be arrested. Gaby (Mireille Balin) is the mistress of a rich businessman. She and some friends visit the Casbah, during which she meets Pépé. They fall in love, and so much so that Pépé can no longer stand being cooped up in the Casbah, which leads to him to leave so he can be with her all the time, giving Slimane the chance he has been waiting for.
You can tell when a movie is trying to impose an attitude on you, but it just doesn’t take. We are obviously supposed to regard Pépé as a charming rogue, but he is rude and inconsiderate. We are supposed to feel sorry for Inès (Line Noro), who truly loves him, but it is hard to care about a woman who will allow a man to treat her like dirt.
We are supposed to believe that Pépé and Gaby truly love each other, but I could not begin to swallow that one. Though Pépé appears to be about thirty years old, and supposedly has had his way with countless women, yet we are asked to believe he would fall madly in love with Gaby at first sight, acting as if he had the emotional maturity of an adolescent half his age. And she is a hard boiled, gold digging mistress of an older man, so true love at first sight does not suit her very well either.
We are not supposed to like Slimane, but I kept pulling for him to catch Pépé and put him in prison as he deserves. But nothing so mundane. When Pépé realizes he cannot have the woman he loves, he carves himself up with a knife. Oh well, at least the bad guy died in the end.